Iceland is by far the most unique country we have ever visited and it will be in our "No.1 Destination to visit". It is a tiny island and takes 3~4 hours by flight from mainland Europe.
Explaining the uniqueness of its landscapes, Iceland has got an active volcano, Large Glaciers, Black sand beach, Geysers, Thundering waterfalls, Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights), Whales circling the Arctic ocean, the beautiful city of Reykjavik, and partying nightlife. It is the most expensive destination we've been to, still tried to do it under Budget
Things to Know before you Go
Visa (for Indian Passport holders): Prior Visa has to be arranged for Indian Passport Holders if you are only visiting Iceland. If you have Schengen Visa or a resident permit in Schengen countries, you can easily travel VISA free
Currency: Iceland’s currency is the Icelandic krona (ISK). Even though it is inside the Schengen area, Euro is not the currency. 1 ISK ~ 0.58 INR
Best way to travel in Iceland: No two major cities are close by, considering the small size of the country. Public transportation (Bus) is limited to Reykjavik and limited to inter-city buses. Renting a car is the best way to explore Iceland. Alternatively, you can join small/large group tours
Accommodation: We prefer AIRBNB’s. We rented out an entire place in the city, which was less expensive than a hotel room. Budget rooms start at 10000 ISK/night (Approx. 5800 INR), Dorms at 4500 ISK/night(Approx. 2500 INR)
Language: Icelandic is the official languages of the country, but you can find English is widely spoken and boards/signs in English
Food: Iceland is considered to be the top expensive country along with Norway & Switzerland. The cheapest meal in a restaurant will cost ISK 2000 (INR 1140). There are plenty of fast-food joints across the city. if you staying in a dorm, the best option to get into a supermarket and buy fresh/frozen meals starting @ ISK 200 (INR 120). Healthy & cheap. We did the same with Booze, bought them in supermarkets. Asian restaurants/Hot dogs were the other economical food option we tried. Others were super expensive
Water: Tap water is clean & safe. Do carry reusable bottles and refill it any restaurant/coffee shops
Wifi & Mobile data: There are plenty of free wi-fi spots if you are in the city. We didn’t have the requirement to buy a sim or activate data roaming. Our AIRBNB had free wifi where we used to download stuff required for the next day. Wifi was available on our Tour bus as well
Credit Cards and ATMs: It was easy paying by card everywhere. Hardly we used cash, still, we had close t0 5000 kronor, but didn’t need to use it. The public transportation system works on pre-loaded cards. Cash is used to buy tickets, but no change will be returned.
Safety: Iceland is one of the safest places on the planet. Keep your wallets & passports safe. Always be mindful of your surroundings & stick to your instincts. If you feel something is not right, don't do it.
Best time to Visit
Iceland is a destination which can be enjoyed both in Summer & winter. The days are longer in Summer, the sun shining until 11 pm and rising around 4 am. Winter, is the opposite with a shorter daytime. But you can enjoy snow & chase Northern lights
So what is the best time to visit?? May-June, if you want to experience the warmer days & September-October would be the best, you will experience dry & mild weather. It is not the holiday season. Hotels/Accommodations are not pricier. Winters are not harsh either except for the odd chilly days. This is also the best time to see the northern lights
Iceland is a small country in size but has got a lot to offer. It has got geysers, Thermal lagoons, Volcanoes, Snow, Northern lights, Black sandy beaches, thundering waterfalls, and unique landscapes. We need to understand the locations of our places of interest and frame the itinerary accordingly.
The below were our places of interest and we mixed it up to maximize our time going around.
Reykjavik-Videy island-Blue Lagoon
Golden Circle-South coast Waterfalls
You can find more details about other destinations on the official Iceland tourism website
How to get to Iceland
Traveling from India, International flights arrive at Keflavik International Airport, Reykjavik. This will be your first point of entry flying long-haul flights.
We flew Wizz air from Stavanger International airport to Reykjavik via Warsaw (Poland). The best option is to rent a car from the airport. Alternatively, if you have booked organized tours, you can book a shared airport transfer from the airport. They will drop you at your Hotel Accommodation
This is the quickest way to reach Iceland from Chennai, India. Other connection option is via London (British airways)
Flight fares start at INR 62,000 return ticket/person
We were traveling on a Budget as we always do. Iceland is on par with Switzerland & Norway when it comes to expenses. It is not a cheap destination but can be done on a budget if you plan well
Wizz air flew was the most economical. But we have to book two separate flights, Stavanger-Warsaw-Reykjavik. The one-way ticket cost us 400 Norwegian kroner/person (3200 INR)
We found an Airbnb Accommodation a studio apartment, cost us 47000 ISK(26000 INR) for 5 nights. this is the most expensive accommodation we have ever paid
The restaurants are expensive. We bought frozen food from supermarkets & did some basic cooking. It cost us like 500 ISK per person/meal, all five days. Avergae meal in a restaurant will cost 2000 ISK (1200 INR) per person
We booked organized tours for four days which took the bulk of the budget. This is the biggest mistake we made in Iceland. Cost us 120000 ISK (70000 INR)
Where to Stay
Reykjavik is our main place of stay. Based in Reykjavik, we planned all our trips
The city center is the best place to stay if you are looking at budget accommodations & Hostel dorms. Plenty of restaurants and takeaways nearby. An organized tour will arrange free pick up if you are staying inside the city
City as such is not well connected with the bus network. The frequencies are low, but extremely reliable.
The only reason we chose to stay outside the city center is because of the cheaper accommodation we found on AIRBNB with all the amenities and excellent reviews. Our tour operator picked us up from our accommodation, so not much walking to do
City Centre - Best Area to Stay
5 Days in Iceland !!What to Do?
This Map will give you the things to do in Iceland if you are planning for a 5-day trip. You’ll get an overall idea of what to do and you can mix it up the way you want. We shortlisted Golden Circle, South Coast & Jokursalon based on our interests & cost. Below is our Itinerary
Things to Note: Highly Important
Weather plays a major role when you plan trips during the winter season October- February.
1. Shorter day time - Sunrises by 10 am and sets by 4 pm. So you have to rush to see places. This can also be affected by rainy days & bad weather.
2. Weather Warnings - Tour operators will cancel the trip if there is a weather warning, so have an alternate plan in mind. If you are driving, do check the local weather updates.
3. Rent a car - If you have your Driving license and if it is accepted by the rental car company, hire a car throughout your stay. It is the best way to experience Iceland and cuts down your budget by more than 50%
Day 1: Golden Circle
What is Golden Circle
It is a 250 km round trip from Reykjavik which comprises Gulfoss waterfall, Geyser & Pingvellir National Park. The Most visited route by tourists in Iceland and will get busier in Winter because of the shorter day time
Travel Tips & Things to Remember :
If you are driving, try to leave the city as early as possible. We went via a tour operator which was good, but we have a deep regret of not taking a car
Be prepared for all types of weather. It will be bright and sunny and there will be a passing shower suddenly. Layered clothing is always the best. For example: Thermals + Fleece + Jacket.
Do carry snacks, packed lunch, wrapped sandwich, and a refill water bottle. This will help you cut down the additional cost at the top.
There will be coffee stops in between, so not to worry about the toilet breaks.
Click on the Image !
Day 2: South Coast Waterfalls & Reynesfjara
This was our 2nd day trip from Reykjavik, even longer than the Golden Circle. The Roads are better and you can see all Stunning landscapes on the way.
Two Waterfalls (Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss )
Two photo stops ( Eyjafjallajökull Volcano & Sólheimajökull Glacier) &
Reynisfjara (Black sand Beach & Sea stacks)
Travel Tips & Things to Remember :
You are going to get wet going near the waterfalls & even more when you walk behind the beautiful waterfall. So be prepared with waterproof jackets, towels, camera protectors, and sturdy shoes. Summer should be the best time to take a dip
A short walk from the base station will land you at the beginning point of the Glacier hike. If the weather is clear, you can take clear pics of the Glacier. Glacier Hikes & other tours begin from this point.
Always be cautious in Reynisfjara, the waves are strong and sudden. It is always a good option to maintain some distance
We had to return to the city after the tour. But if you could make one night stay at Vik, the town near Reynisfjara, you can visit the most beautiful Jokursalon - The Diamond beach and also take a short hike to the Ice caves
Day 3: Jökulsárlón (Overnight stay at Vik)
People visit Jökulsárlón all year round to watch the free-flowing icebergs. You can also take boat tours to go near the icebergs in Summer. You can also do it as a day trip from Reykjavik (380 km 5-6 hours one way, but not advisable. The best option is to stay @Vik overnight (after finishing the south coast tour ) and make a morning tour
Jökulsárlón sits south of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. The icebergs that break away from the glacier and fall into the lagoon, slowly melt and drift out to sea. Diamond beach is the point where you can see these icebergs joins the sea. You can also explore other activities in Vatnajökull national park
You will be lucky to catch the Aurora borealis, so always keep the northern lights tracker App on. Areas surrounding Vik experiences stronger waves than you get in the city
Other Activities: We again missed this one, but a beautiful tour to go. It has to be a guided tour organized via a tour operator. This is because of safety reasons and experts advice is required on the path to take
Day 4: Reykjavik & Videy Island
After three tiring days and a night in hunt of norther lights, we decided to do the city tour. A partially sunny day as well, perfect for walking around the city. Videy Island is another short ferry trip from Reykjavik. There is not much to see, just some quiet time for yourself.
Travel Tips & Things to Remember :
Weather is unpredictable in Iceland, so do carry your jackets/Umbrellas & fleece jackets at all times.
Hop-On Hop-Off Reykjavik bus is the best option if you are going in winter (again the same short day duration). It will take you to important places in and around the city. It will cost 6200ISK (3500 INR) per person
Restaurants were super expensive, but you get the quick fast-food chains, oriental take away & 7/11 pizzas
Day 5: Blue Lagoon
What is Blue Lagoon?
The Blue Lagoon is a large outdoor pool that uses water from the nearby geothermal plant. The processed water is a by-product after producing electricity. The naturally heated pool is a major tourist attraction and it was on our bucket list as well. The temperatures are maintained at around 37-40 degrees. Considering the external temperature around 5 degrees or less, it is nice and warm inside the lagoon
We initially thought the water is blue, but it is white and it is not translucent. if you drop something inside the water, it is hard to find out. The Bluish sky & the sun makes the water look blue.
Icelandic Lamb soup is something you have to try. This is the advice we were given by our tour operator. We did try but felt it was a bit hyped. Cost us 2100 ISK (1400 INR) per person
Skyr - It is a cheese with a yogurt consistency and is served in a little cup. Again an offering from our tour operator. It was good
We had some street foods, frozen meal & Pizzas. It is the only way to cut down some cost in Iceland
Conclusion & Our Recommendation
Iceland is a unique destination which has got too many varieties, considering the small size of the country. Not the best if you are on a tight budget. Winters are the best if you are traveling from India. You can see some amazing landscapes which are all free of cost.
Plan your Budget well. if you are going to drive in Iceland, it will save 50% of your total trip cost straightaway.
A small comparison of how much we spent and how much we could have saved.
This is based on two people traveling together
Travel Days: 5
Fuel @ 210 ISK/liter (INR 120) & Distance traveled is based on the below tours round trip
Bucket list Destination
Instead of Doing day trips from Reykjavik, try to get accommodation closer to the destinations, which's of the same price and you can save half the fuel cost. Secondly, you can maximzse the daytime duration. Thirdly you can go chasing Aurora all nights (free activity)
Renting a car will also give you the flexibility to look for cheaper accommodations, cutting down the cost even more.
Try to add Glacier Hiking or ice cave exploration to your itinerary. It is not a common activity which you find Drive to the base point from where the tour starts, this will reduce your tour cost as well.
We will go to Iceland again for sure when Ryan grows up. We will be doing the Ring road trip, a minimum of 10 days